Your boss is angry, your co-workers gossip and gripe, your clients are consistently late, and your computer is on the verge of its own break-down. 5 o’clock finally comes and you start to breathe sighs of relief that you made it through another long work day. As you pick up your kids, you realize that work was actually the peaceful part of your day. Upon getting strapped in their seat-belts and booster seats, your son and daughter bum rush you with the exciting details of their day and both seem to believe that whoever can tell their story the fastest and the loudest…’wins!’ This only leads to their inevitable, evening fight that starts out with yelling and screaming, but ends up with biting, scratching, and throwing toys by the time you reach your front door.
What do you do when you have not one, but two kids acting up? Where do you find the energy to properly discipline, without driving yourself crazy?
Although sibling rivalry can have several reasons, brothers and sisters often fight for their parent’s attention or to show power over each other. Some squabbling is normal among siblings, but constant arguing and physical aggression are not and can be potentially dangerous. Here a few tips to help you increase your sanity and decrease your children’s rivalry and aggressive behaviors:
1. Allow your children to express themselves – Establish a daily routine where each child is given a certain amount of time to tell you about their day. Give the child your full attention and when (not if) the other child interrupts, firmly tell him or her, “It’s your brother’s/sister’s turn, I look forward to hearing your story in about 3 minutes.” Of course, discipline behavioral outbursts and remove the disruptive child; then, proceed with giving your child uninterrupted attention for the remainder of his/her time. If this occurs, still find time to give the disruptive child those uninterrupted minutes, but only after they’ve calmed down. This timed schedule will be difficult to establish, but after a few days or weeks, it will become the norm for your family. You may also want to incorporate moments of quiet time in the daily schedule. Note: as much as possible, be sure to praise your children on their good listening skills and prosocial behaviors, and tell them just how much you enjoy hearing about their experiences and feelings.
2. Don’t take sides – Even though it’s clear that one child started the fight, both are engaging in maladaptive ways of handling conflict, so don’t encourage either child and do discipline both of them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to discipline them the same. If one child’s behavior is more aggressive or dangerous, first separate the children. You then may have the aggressor do the additional chores and the other lose 10 minutes of playtime or TV time.
3. Don’t compare your children – “Why can’t you be more like Timmy?” is a sure-fire way to encourage sibling rivalry and jealousy. It is likely that the child you compare unfavorably will want to get even with the favored child. Praise both children on their strengths and good behaviors, without noting how much better they are than their sibling.
4. Step in when children cannot work out their problems – When your children’s fighting become serious or may be dangerous, step in for their safety. Separate the children and enforce positive discipline techniques. If you are unsure of what these might be, ask a counselor or parenting coach for help.
5. Have consistent “me time” – The best way to manage your children’s unruly behaviors is to “charge your batteries.” Personally engage in consistent activities, hobbies, and socializing that are invigorating and relaxing. Also keep your stress level down by letting predetermined consequences do the work. When children do not follow house rules (which should include respecting one another), then they consistently suffer the consequences. The choice is theirs: they can either choose to follow the rules or experience the predetermined consequence of not doing so. As the parent, there’s really no need for yelling, bargaining, or explaining…period. It is also important to address any other impacting marital, personal, or other family issues – in some cases this may mean obtaining your own help or counseling.